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Mission Possible

Stories and insights on excellent education.

Planet Earth is dying. Plants no longer grow, water is scarce and the human race is forced to trade a dying world for another planet. Flash forward many years and technology has advanced — living outside of Earth has become easier, though painful memories of our world remain. One girl recalls planting a flower just before her family left Earth and finds out that not only did it not die, it prospered. But why did this piece of life flourish for her, when others had failed in the same attempt?

Does this sound like the synopsis of the latest Veronica Roth sci-fi hit or possibly a classic work by Lois Lowry? You might be surprised to learn this story was written by a student at Success Academy Harlem West during the 2016 Middle School Write-a-Thon.

On Friday, October 7, our scholars spent an entire half day composing stories in different genres, from dystopia, to romance, to thrillers. SA scholars spend the whole school year reading compelling fiction narratives, but we think it’s important that they have frequent opportunities to write their own—it not only helps students appreciate the effort it takes to write good stories, but creating fictional worlds helps them become more attentive and reflective on their own lives and experiences. This day was a celebration of the writing that scholars will produce throughout the year, as they craft stories across a variety of fiction and nonfiction genres. We want our scholars to be constantly improving as writers and as independent, creative thinkers.

We want our scholars to be constantly improving as writers and as independent, creative thinkers.

 

From the first minute, staff got students excited about the Write-A-Thon: Scholars watched this pump-up video written by spoken word teacher David Quinones that featured students from across the school encouraging their peers to give the day their all, while staff asked scholars, “What will you create?” Each room was dedicated to a different genre and teachers got creative juices flowing by having scholars read a story in their genre. In my classroom — dystopian fiction — scholars read The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, a short story based in 2053, where a man is detained by a robotic police car as he takes a walk.  

Afterwards, scholars started writing their own story, first drafting with the help of some prompts on a worksheet, and later working on their chromebooks. Every scholar spent the day wearing felt berets in red, green or blue to help them get into a writerly spirit. The colored berets represented scholars’ team affiliations for SA Harlem West’s “Battle of the Nations,” an ongoing, school-wide competition based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Since the beginning of the year, students have been members of one of three nations: Earth, Fire, or Water, and they earn points towards their team for exceptional behavior and academic effort. They donned their berets very proudly on writing day!

The experience brought back memories of my own time as a middle school student, when I enjoyed imitating the writing of my favorite authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Jordan, and Orson Scott Card in my spare time. Later, as an English major at the University of New Hampshire, some of my favorite classes were my creative writing classes. While I also enjoyed more analytical writing— analyzing how Macbeth has been translated on to the big screen, or what the silences during dialogue mean in Beowulf — it was the act of creating my own work, my own stories, my own worlds, that really hooked me. On Write-A-Thon day, it hooked our scholars, too. Across the network, our middle schoolers wrote stories about everything from attacking robots, to a boy who can transform into any animal to protect his city, to an invisible man and woman who fall in love. You can read excerpts from some of their stories below.

I was so proud of the amazing work they produced. I noticed that some scholars who struggle when writing more traditional academic papers produced stories that blew me away with their depth of thought, use of imagery, and realistic dialogue. I know this experience will help me teach those scholars to incorporate creative thinking in all of their writing. I want them to learn how they can utilize the same eloquence, creativity, and motivation that they showed during the Write-a-thon in their everyday work. I can’t wait to see where their love of writing takes them!

 

 

  • An excerpt from Hush, No One Can Hear You, by SA Harlem North Central 7th grader Yaliecia Poussaint:

    “What happened? Why did we have to run?” I asked Alex between breathes. “You didn’t notice? Someone was behind you watching us!” I looked at him with wide eyes as I looked around. “Alex, where ARE we?” I asked. Alex jolted his head up, looked around, and then looked back at me with a nervous smile. We were lost. Every step got us farther and farther from getting out of the woods. Every noise made me squeak and the slightest movement of leaves made me jump. Alex called me a nervous train-wreck. “Stop,” I said. We listened carefully. Whimpering? No, more like, sobbing. I walked, ignoring the fact that Alex was trying to hold me back. I looked behind the tree where the noise was coming from. It was a girl with cuts, bruises, and torn up clothing. She looked up, tears rolling down her face.”

  • An excerpt from The Animal, by SA Harlem North Central 6th grader Jamel Harris:

    “Who is The Animal?” I ask. The man tells me The Animal was the one who kept this city safe, and that I am to follow in his footsteps. He asked me if I wanted to fulfill my destiny, and if I want to be the person I was made to be. I accepted the challenge. It will be hard, no doubt, but from now on instead of being a broke boy living in a box in the street, I know my purpose, my destiny. My job: to be the one who keeps this city safe. To be...The Animal.”

  • An excerpt from Hope, by SA Harlem West 8th grader Tiana Wynn:

    “The silence of the woods made me feel insane. It was dark and crisp. The leaves fell. They were white. Crisp. Like it had been burned. I heard popping. I walked toward the sounds. I wiped the tears and sniffles with my leather coat. My black boots crunched the burned leaves. My feet got hotter and hotter each step. The sounds got louder. I saw fresh flames lick the tree tops. I hid behind a tree. I peeped my head and looked at the flames. It was burning. I wondered, who did this? Then, I saw a boy with a velvet cloak come from behind the trees.”

  • An excerpt from an untitled story by SA Harlem West 7th grader Briana Bynes:

    “When I was five, no one told me our planet was dying, just that we had to leave. But when I found out the truth, it devastated me. The week before we left, I planted a flower and watered it till we left. It grew and I told everybody, but no one believed me, so I started doubting it myself. I gave up hope on our planet a long time ago, but I feel bad for those who couldn’t make it out. They’re probably dead and those who survived must be in agony over their deaths. We are truly fortunate to have escaped, but I always felt like something was off. Why did that flower grow for me but no one else? It was like I have a connection to plants, like it’s magic, but I know magic doesn’t exist. Science has proved it. People are normal beings of nature, but something strange does happen around me and plants. Like once during trip to the greenhouse, when I touched a sick plant and it became healthy again. It was weird but I never read anything into it.”

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As a theater teacher, I believe in the power of self expression and have witnessed the profound effect performance can have both as an actor and as an audience member.

 

Since the primary season began, I have thought hard about how we as educators will help students navigate this election season.